Temperatures in Central Florida can often dip below freezing, which can easily cause damage to temperate, tropical and subtropical plants. A gradual decrease in temperature over days is easier for a plant to withstand than a sudden plummet. Plant root systems are rarely frozen in Central Florida but sudden cold temperatures that cause ice formation in the leaves, stems and plant tissues cause instant damage to cold-susceptible plants and even result in the plants' death.
Plant cold-susceptible plants in areas with good air drainage. Central Florida offers rolling terrain with many hills and dips. In the dips of the terrain cold air can accumulate compared to areas that are more open. Soil around the plant should offer good drainage. Poor drainage with water accumulation around the roots can injure cold-sensitive plants during a sudden cold snap.
Choose planting sites that offer protection to cold-sensitive plants. Fence lines and along houses and buildings can afford some cold protection to plants. These locations also offer protection as a windbreak from cold winds that might chill the plant.
Fertilize cold-susceptible plants in Central Florida four times per year. The University of Florida IFAS Extension suggests fertilizing in March, June, September and December to help prevent cold injury during a freeze in north central Florida; in south central Florida it suggests fertilizing in February, May, August and November. Use 1 to 1 1/2 cups of an all-purpose plant fertilizer such as 6-6-6 or 8-8-8 per 100 square feet for the first three fertilizations of the year. The final fall fertilizer application should be half the amount of the previous applications.
Choose plants that thrive in the shade but are cold sensitive to plant under tree canopies. Large tree canopies offer protection to cold-sensitive plants during a sudden cold snap.
Water all landscape plants the day that a freeze is expected to hit. Soil that is moist will retain heat better. The soil will re-radiate heat during the night around the cold-ensitive plant to offer a bit of protection.
Turn a sprinkler on during the night to keep the foliage of the plants moist. This will help keep the plant foliage at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and help prevent the plant from sustaining cold damage.
Cover cold-sensitive plants with sheets or blankets. Make sure the covers extend all the way to the ground to afford the plants complete protection. Rolls of frost cloth can be purchased and used in place of sheets or blankets. Frost cloth offers plants additional protection and is available at garden centers.
Apply 3 inches of mulch around perennials that are cold sensitive to help protect the roots. Use bark chips, peat moss, recycled plastic mulch, sawdust, pine needles or leaves for mulch.